The Book of Lost Names Excerpt: A Gifted Forger Joins the Resistance in WWII France
Inspired by a true story, The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel, is a poignant and emotional World War II tale. After her father, a Polish Jew, is arrested, graduate student Eva Traube Abrams and her mother manage to escape from Nazi-occupied Paris. Learning that her father was taken to Auschwitz inspires Eva to join forces with the French Resistance, forging identity documents to help Jews escape. Years later, Eva is a semi-retired librarian and her memories of that time are too painful to look back on. When details emerge about a Book of Lost Names, Eva knows she might be the only person who can crack the code and reunite families that were torn apart during the war. But to do so she’ll have to overcome her own memories of love, loss, and betrayal.
In this special selection from The Book of Lost Names, Eva (who has been going by Colette) begins to put her forgery talents to good use with help from French Resistance members Père Clément and Rémy. As she proves her worth and wins their trust, she begins to learn their closely guarded secrets.
Ten minutes later, Père Clément was watching Rémy and Eva bicker about who had the better ideas for forgery, a bemused expression on his face. Eva had found him in an empty confession booth, and he had lowered the privacy screen and asked her to bring Rémy in for a quick chat.
“Colette,” he said when Rémy finally took a breath after reminding them how revolutionary his own lactic acid idea had been. “You say you have an idea for how to produce documents more quickly?”
“Yes. Though I don’t know if it will work.”
Rémy muttered something unintelligible.
Eva gave him a look and then turned back to the priest. “And it’s Eva, Père Clément. Rémy already knows my real name; you might as well, too.”
He smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Eva.” He turned to Rémy. “Eva is good. Very good. You see it, too, I know you do. Would you have gone running after her to Paris without telling me if you didn’t?”
Rémy’s eyes flicked to Eva. “Well, I’m better than she is at erasing things,” Rémy finally grumbled. “You can’t argue with that.”
“So let’s see if Eva is better at creating them, and quickly,” Père Clément said. “We need her.”
Rémy shot another glance at Eva. “I would be happy to take her on as my assistant.”
Père Clément’s lips twitched at the corners. “I was rather thinking that you could be hers.”
Rémy’s nostrils flared, and this time, when he spoke under his breath, the words were clear—and not particularly nice. He turned and strode away, slamming the door to the confessional.
“Wait, Rémy!” Eva stood and started to go after him.
“Let him go,” Père Clément said calmly.
Eva stopped and sighed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I probably should have—”
He cut her off. “No apologies. There’s no room for ego in our organization, and Rémy knows that. He’s good at what he does, too, but different people have different strengths, and we’re all stronger when we join. You’ll work together as equals, Eva, if that’s all right with you.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good. Now, shall we go into the library and get started? There’s not a moment to lose.”
He exited his side of the confessional, and Eva followed. She expected to find Rémy in the library when they entered a moment later, but he wasn’t there, which made her feel a bit guilty. She watched as Père Clément moved a stack of books, revealing the same hidden cupboard Rémy had accessed a few nights earlier. Withdrawing some papers, he slid the door closed, replaced the books, and turned back to Eva. “Here,” he said.
She looked at what he had given her. There were a few blank identity cards, four or five dozen blank sheets of the crisp woven paper used for birth certificates, and a handwritten list with names and dates of birth. She quickly scanned it. “But they’re almost all children,” she said, looking up. “Young children.”
“Yes.” Père Clément was watching her closely.
“Who are they?”
“They need to escape as soon as possible. Many are young enough that they won’t need identity cards—just birth and baptismal certificates, ration cards to establish that they are who they’re claiming to be, travel passes, things of that nature.”
Eva felt breathless. “And their parents?”
“Already gone. East.”
East. Their parents had been taken, just like her father, to Auschwitz, or someplace like it.
“Where are the children now?” Eva scanned the list again. Most of the kids appeared to be under the age of ten, some of them mere toddlers. They had all lost their parents? It was almost unimaginable. “Who’s looking out for them?”
Père Clément studied her for a few long seconds. “I can trust you, Eva?”
“Who would I tell? I’m a Jew in an unfamiliar place, traveling on false papers.” When he merely raised an eyebrow, she cleared her throat and mumbled, “What I mean to say is that of course you can trust me.”
Excerpted from The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel. Copyright © 2020 by the author. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.